College | Story | 7/1/2019

Eight for Omaha 2020

Mike Rooney        
Photo: Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Final 2019 College Top 25Rutschman named College POY
College All-Americans | Freshman All-Americans

Vanderbilt wrapped up the College World Series less than a week ago. So that means it’s time to take a shot at predicting the 2020 Omaha field.

Last year’s effort was fairly solid as we accurately predicted four of the eight CWS teams and we even had Michigan, Florida State, and Arkansas in our 10 “Others to Consider.”

Ironically, Mississippi State was the team that we missed altogether and there was a reason for that: these predictions always take place before the MLB Draft Signing Deadline. And at this time a year ago, we didn’t know that JT Ginn would not sign despite being taken 30th overall by the Dodgers. Ginn solidified an unknown rotation and went on to be the SEC Freshman of the Year.

This year’s signing deadline is July 12 at 5 p.m. ET and it is unlikely that we will have any, let alone three as in 2018, first rounders make it to campus. The teams in both categories will be listed in alphabetical order.

The Eight

Arizona State
2019 Record: 38-19
2019 Finish: Baton Rouge Regional

The Sun Devils return one of the best junior classes in the country and that group is led by superstar power hitter Spencer Torkelson. Outfielder Trevor Hauver, catcher Sam Ferri, shortstop Alika Williams, second baseman Drew Swift and third baseman Gage Workman make up the rest of that position player core and this is an extremely offensive lineup. Pitching was the Achilles Heel in 2019 but the acquisitions of pitching coach Jason Kelly (Washington) and Saint Mary’s transfer Tyler Thornton may be two of the biggest moves on the West Coast this offseason.

2019 Record: 38-28
2019 Finish: College World Series

The 2019 Tigers were the classic example of “sometimes Omaha happens when you least expect it.” So there is program momentum and the draft went better than expected with both Jack Owen and Edouard Julien announcing their return in 2020 despite both being drafted. Steven Williams showed flashes of who he can be in the postseason and Ryan Bliss should make a seamless transition to shortstop. Getting ace Tanner Burns back to full strength might be the key to Auburn’s 2020 season.

2019 Record: 34-26
2019 Finish: Lubbock Regional

It should be a quick reload in Gainesville and last year’s uber-young squad still found a way to reach a Regional. Shortstop and catcher look like the big question marks headed into 2020 but there are talented returners abound everywhere else. Brady Smith, Austin Langworthy, Kendrick Calilao, Jacob Young, Cory Acton, Jud Fabian and Jordan Butler give the Gators a chance to have a formidable lineup. Pitching is where the rubber will meet the road and talented juniors Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich will need to take the next step. The draft went particularly well for Florida with lefthander Hunter Barco and shortstop/third baseman Josh Rivera being highly ranked incoming freshmen likely to make it to campus.

2019 Record: 46-17
2019 Finish: Athens Regional

Scott Stricklin’s program has earned Top 8 National Seeds in each of the last two seasons so Omaha seems imminent for this program. The high-end talent on the mound stands out with Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox both projecting as first round arms in their respective draft classes. Ryan Webb and CJ Smith are two other key names on the mound. The return of shortstop Cam Shepherd for his senior season gives Georgia one of the best defenders in the SEC and Riley King’s possible return (Braves, 26th round) would solidify the left side of the infield. Tucker Bradley is a career .305 hitter and his healthy return is critical.

2019 Record: 51-18
2019 Finish: College World Series

Dan McDonnell’s fifth trip to the CWS was a breakthrough for the Cardinals as they made their deepest run to date. The pitching staff returns a ton of production including starters Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller and Luke Smith. Big arms like Michael Kirian and Jared Poland give the bullpen a strong foundation. Freshman phenom Alex Binelas should anchor the middle of the order and Lucas Dunn is a catalyst at the top of the order and also offers tremendous positional versatility. Shortstop will be the key position to address in the fall.

2019 Record: 41-20
2019 Finish: Starkville Regional

The Hurricanes nearly earned a hosting spot with a very young roster and their rising sophomore and junior classes have high-end talent. The top six hitters return and that group combined for 64 home runs in 2019, led by Alex Toral’s 24 round trippers. Adrian Del Castillo was one of the best freshman in the country and the lefthanded hitter posted a .331 average with a remarkable 72 RBI. The pitching staff is less settled but Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon are very talented arms on the front end while Daniel Federman brings experience to the back of the bullpen.

Mississippi State
2019 Record: 52-15
2019 Finish: College World Series

The Chris Lemonis era in Starkville got off to an excellent start and the 2020 team will be led by a loaded junior class. Tanner Allen, Justin Foscue, Jordan Westburg, Rowdey Jordan and Josh Hatcher provide high-end talent for what may be the best offense in the SEC. JT Ginn was PG’s Freshman of the Year and he should be joined in the rotation by highly touted redshirt freshman lefthander Christian MacLeod. Solidifying the catching position and the bullpen look to be two of the keys to a return trip to Nebraska.

2019 Record: 59-12
2019 Finish: National Champions

The Commodores return Kumar Rocker, the CWS Most Outstanding Player, and Mason Hickman, the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the CWS Finals. Tyler Brown established himself as the rock in the Vandy bullpen and he is joined by flame-throwing lefties Hugh Fisher and Jake Eder. Incoming freshman righthander Jack Leiter is one of the highest ranked 2019 players to make it to campus so pitching depth will be a plus. The offense will take a big hit but Austin Martin is back and he may be the best player in America in 2020. Pat DeMarco and Philip Clarke were selected as draft-eligible sophomores and their return feels vital.

Others to Consider

Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad are both legitimate candidates for SEC Player of the Year so there is star power here. The development of rising sophomore arms Patrick Wicklander and Connor Noland could be the key.

Florida State
The Seminoles will break in a “new” coach in Mike Martin, Jr. in 2020 but there is a significant group of returners including ace CJ Van Eyk who projects as a top-of-the-first-round draft pick. The rising sophomore position player group is extremely talented but Robby Martin, Matheu Nelson, Nander De Sedas and Elijah Cabell all need to take the next step.

Paul Mainieri needs to replace the majority of his lineup but Daniel Cabrera has star upside and the duo of Saul Garza and Cade Beloso can slug at a high level. If healthy, this might be the deepest pitching staff Paul Mainieri has had in Baton Rouge. But that is an enormous if. The rotation quartet of Cole Henry, Jaden Hill, Landon Marceaux and Eric Walker seem to hold the keys to the kingdom.

Despite some tremendous losses, Michigan’s elite rising Junior class should have them back in postseason contention. Jordan Nwogu, Jesse Franklin and Jack Blomgren will lead the position player group and the pitching staff could be stout if a healthy Ben Dragani can join Jeff Criswell in the rotation.

North Carolina
Aaron Sabato may have been the best freshman hitter in the country in 2019 and classmate Danny Serretti joined him in the middle of the order while also playing shortstop. Luca Dalatri will be back for his senior year and with Joey Lancellotti, Austin Love and Caden O’Brien this pitching staff has promise.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes have been to a Regional in three of the last four years and the 2020 roster is exciting. The entire rotation returns and Seth Lonsway could emerge as a bona fide ace if he commands the strike zone at a higher level. The lineup is led by catcher Dillon Dingler who has star upside.

The Sooners lose Brylie Ware and Nathan Wiles but return nearly everyone else. Two-way star Cade Cavalli was lost to injury down the stretch and that seemed to torpedo the 2019 season. Tyler Hardman, Brady Lindsly and Brandon Zaragoza will lead the position player group while lefthander Levi Prater could be the best Saturday arm in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State
The Cowboys will sustain big losses up the middle but Carson McCusker and Cade Cabiness are candidates to make big leaps in 2020. Pitching should be a strength once again with the return of Parker Scott, Brett Standlee and Ben Leeper as well as the addition of high profile recruit Bryce Osmond.

The Cardinal have a ton to replace in the lineup from teams that earned back-to-back Top 8 National Seeds but center fielder Christian Robinson showed flashes and Tim Tawa is clearly a better player than his 2019 season. Stanford returns depth and experience on the mound beginning with ace Brandon Beck. While the offense is the main question mark, this roster does lack out pitches on the mound.

The Longhorns may look out of place on this list after finishing dead last in the Big 12 in 2019, but there is considerable returning talent here. Bryce Elder projects as the best Friday night arm in the league and the catching situation should improve dramatically with the return of DJ Petrinsky. Eric Kennedy, Zach Zubia and Austin Todd are key lineup pieces.

Texas Tech
The Red Raiders lost much of their star power but key cogs like Dylan Neuse and Brian Klein should anchor the 2020 lineup. The pitching staff has plenty of talent in Micah Dallas, Bryce Bonnin, Dane Haveman, Clayton Beeter and Vanderbilt transfer Austin Becker.

It’s difficult to make this list the year after having 13 players drafted but the Bruins recruit at a very high and consistent level. Garrett Mitchell and Matt McLain offer first round upside and they will be asked to carry big loads in 2020. Closer Holden Powell will lead a young pitching staff but sophomores Jesse Bergin and Nick Nastrini are more than viable rotation candidates.

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